June 25 was a very big day in the city of Lancaster. It was the opening sponsors luncheon for the James R. Clark Memorial Sickle Cell Foundation’s local satellite office, held at the Lancaster Cultural Arts Center.
It provided the spark of information to keep the sickle cell survivors and parents ignited in the fight. And there were many sparks all over the place. The morning got off to a great start with Lynette Stover’s introduction, Kathy Waiters’ welcome and the Rev. Marvin Tennant’s invocation.
As Lancaster community health worker Doris Ealey began the slide presentation, her spark impression drew shouts of laughter and applause. She showed us what a spark should look like, as she transformed herself into that position. This was a shining moment in the program. Sparks of praise and joy began lighting up!
By the numbers
Newborn screening results in our state and county were shared. Out of the 829 babies with sickle cell disease born in 2021 in the 15 South Carolina counties where the disease is most prevalent, 48 were born in Lancaster County. The race breakdown of those babies was 727 African American (87.7%), 64 Caucasian (.08%) and 16 Hispanic (.02%). The race of the other 22 was not noted.
The numbers show there is much to be done in sparking us to be more cognizant of this reality. Advocacy tells us that we need more screenings and more engaging conversations before a child is born. The results tell us that this fight is serious, demanding and impactful.
“Sickle cell has no respect for age, economic status, race or education,” Ealey said.
To break the cycle, we must approach the disease differently, the way we think of it and how information is shared.
Ealey proved herself to be a supreme organizer, gifted with great leadership skills, in getting this year’s event together.
As the celebration moved on, we were given factual information that detailed the importance of the day. The mission is to break the sickle cell cycle. Testing, awareness and engaging conversation are the keys to promoting good health for all people. Thus far, the satellite office has been a positive force in raising awareness and funds. More conversations need to be held in families to strengthen the spark. More counseling is needed with survivors and clients.
Monthly blood drives in the community to help patients bring a big spark to the focus of sickle cell disease.
Vesha Jamison a, Red Cross sickle cell program coordinator, provided facts and numbers from the Red Cross Global perspective on gathering blood that can help patients.
“Each one reach one, teach one,” she said.
Becoming a blood donor is important in igniting sparks, too. If you have not given, please think about giving at a drive near you.
“Every two seconds, someone needs blood,” Jamison said.
Avery Martin, from Vertex Pharmaceuticals, one of the S.C. state patient advocates, spoke of the importance of gene therapy and clinical trials. The more you know, the more you grow in creating that spark.
Kiki Ealey introduced the main speaker of the afternoon, the Rev. Richard Barr, formerly of Heath Springs. The pastor of the Bishopville Church of Christ, he now lies in Columbia. His moving remarks had the room thundering with applause and laughter.
Barr said in order to take care of anyone, with or without sickle cell disease, we must first take care of the largest organ in our bodies — our skin. In caring for our skin, he admonished us to watch for bumps, bruises, open places that can allow light (from our Holy One) to come in. He talked about how important it is to be mindful of what we do, how we care for one another in the “recovering world” of circumstances that we find ourselves in.
Barr asked us to think carefully about our hurts, habits and hangups in relation to our mental, physical and spiritual health. All stem from the way our hearts work, according to what we hear. You had to be there to get all of the sparks he gave off.
As the room calmed down from such a rousing speech, the annual awards were presented. The 2021 sponsors included the Warrior, Conqueror, Soldier and honorable mention categories.
Warrior nominees were Foundation for the Carolinas, Plexus Health, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, Founders Federal Credit Union and the city of Lancaster, which was named Warrior of the Year.
Conqueror nominees were Independent Riders, Zamar Church, Crawford Funeral Home, Lancaster County and the Springs Close Foundation, named Conqueror of the Year.
Soldier nominees were Greater Fraizer AME Zion Church, the McIlwain family, the Francis family, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, Trina Boyd and Nutramax, which was named Soldier of the Year.
Honorable mentions went to Oscar Harris, Shirnetha Belk, Lancaster County Society for Historical Preservation, Centro Cristano Luz Y Verdad Church and AM/PM.
The Advocate of the Year was Nena Carter for her overall support to the foundation.
Acknowledgements and announcements of other special events sponsored by the Lancaster office, including the essay contest, the Disability Awareness Parade and the sixth annual James R. Clark Memorial Festival, ended this part of the celebration, as we went outside to the patio for lunch and more fellowship. Catering was provided by J and B Caterers, with music by Ty Dogg Entertainment and Forever Cousins.
Leaving for home, I had many thoughts — thoughts of a perfect day filled with fun, food, fellowship, education, family and Lancaster County’s best in building community! We were all exhorted to be better, do better, love better.
Other Lancaster satellite office committee members include Minister Silberio Francis Sr., Brenda Chisholm, Chell Chambers, Deborah Cox, Millette Drakeford, John EaleyPatricia Montgomery, Jeneisha Thompson, Iris Curry and Lisa Ingram-Cuttino. You could not ask for more worthy persons to help in this fight; their sparks were gleaming all day!
A spark can symbolize energy. It indicates the start of something that can spread — a spark for change! So be a spark in this fight, in this community, in this state, to stop the spread of sickle cell disease. Build a better future for sickle cell warriors!
Shirnetha Belk is a member of the James R. Clark Memorial Sickle Cell Foundation Lancaster Satellite Office Committee.